On Science, Mysteries, And God-Belief – OpEd


The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass, God is waiting for you ― Werner Heisenberg

We’re at a historical juncture where it’s common and almost banally impressive to defy God and ridicule believers, demonstrating a putatively rational mind with the right set of logical and reasoning capabilities. Faith and religion are seen as mere coping mechanisms enduring through time, a system of terror management (Vail, et al., 2019) for the simple, weak and impressionable minds. The terror is, of course, the impending reality of death and oblivion. 

This is accepted to almost a truistic extent that any normative conception of God or faith at this point will appear absurd, even outright ‘sacrilegious’. For today, the sacred is no longer the Divine or the Good, but the production of goods (which also includes ideas, information, entertainment, etc.) that are consequential to atomistic pockets of social life. This sacred production of course includes distorted conceptions of God(s) and dictates by ‘Godly men,’ which reinforces parasitic, heteronomous conventions. 

If one espouses ideas that offer no direct pragmatic and functional utility to the prevailing order, or if one’s ideas threaten the state-of-affairs, then one is indeed committing a sacrilegious act. The punishments for such acts often appear to be mild insults, concealing the underlying metaphysical preferences that are accepted as truisms today. The new-atheist wave is such a popular, vapid crusade against the faith in God, seeking to infantilize the convictions of believers and call out their irrationality. 

To be fair to the earnest atheists (who are driven by genuine moral and philosophical concerns), the concept of God has certainly been deployed by psychopathic forces to plunder, destroy and subjugate humans throughout history. What they forget to ask, however, is whether it was the fossilization of moral precepts and instrumentalization of aberrant conceptions of God that resulted in such oppressive and authoritarian propensities. The genesis of the great religious imaginations have been marked by the will to reform social practices in history and to emancipate subjugated masses. As such, moral awakening and dogmatic slumbers can both be found within the history of religious development and God-conceptions.

It is not entirely wrong to say that the Crusades marked a sort of putrefaction of the Christian spirit much like how the jihadists and extremists today are aberrations of the Islamic spirit. (Chevedden, 2018). Unsurprisingly, this might seem rather old-fashioned to postmodern minds drowning in a vortex of obscure academic acrobatics. 

However, to lay out the normative distinction in religious and historical definitions of God is beyond the scope of this article and therefore, I shall focus only on particular spaces within our secular-scientific world where God (as a hypothesis) retains some explanatory power and plausibility. 

God’s place in science

Science and faith did co-exist historically, when much of the investigations into nature were propelled by the yearning to understand God’s marvelous creation more profoundly (Numbers, 2010; Ferngren, 2017). One can verify this just by looking at the history of proto-scientific figures of ancient and medieval periods as well as the towering figures of the modern scientific revolution. Newton, Pascal and others committed to their faith, weren’t mere anomalies in the development of science as new-atheists would like to believe. Their faith was intrinsically tied to their spirit of discovery. It is also true that the tendency to delineate speculations and faith from mathematically-grounded inquiries into natural causal mechanisms (exemplified by figures such as Laplace), has provided much impetus to the development of scientific temper as we understand today. This co-existence of faith and agnosticism/skepticism has been characteristic of scientific investigations for the longest time in history. 

Today, however, if you question the certitude of an implicit metaphysics of physicalist reductionism or earnestly propose any other explanatory scheme that doesn’t conform to it, you might be accused of naively holding on to a fairy tale or new-age drivel. Even in such a cultural milieu, God hasn’t really disappeared from the realm of human imagination entirely. Examining some of the philosophical reasons for such an enduring belief-structure will illuminate this discussion. 

Philosophy has to address possible socio-psychological factors in its explanation of God-belief. However, I am not focusing here on the typical Freudian explanations of human belief in God: It is rather too easy to dismiss the God-belief by appealing to purely psychological motivations, and painting God as a projection of our innate need for approval and security – a sky-daddy hypothesis, as some would derisively characterize it. For a more fruitful discussion detached from pseudo-scientific and ideological camps, it will be better to shift our attention to issues in the sciences and metaphysics. 

God of mysteries and gaps?

God is generally regarded as a placeholder, a final explanation for a set of mysteries where there is no hope of achieving any epistemic closure: Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is the universe perfectly fine-tuned for life to exist? Why is order and harmony maintained in a cosmic environment of entropy, death and destruction? Why does unconditional love and compassion exist in a world of ruthless atrocities and evil? Why does conscious, subjective experience exist in a world of dead matter? 

God is often understood as the face of all such mysteries (Kaufman, 2008), a convenient explanation that also offers a sense of coherence and purpose. For the scientists (and for some pantheists), God is precisely this: that which is epistemically (and experientially) transcendent, but ontologically immanent (Bhaskar, 2000). In other words, God-belief is born out of fundamental epistemic gaps. Conversely, for theists (and specifically monotheists), God is ontologically transcendent, but experientially immanent (directly manifest through experiences of love, compassion, forgiveness, etc.). 

The alternative answer to all the mysteries, from the atheistic camp, is quite straightforward: evolutionary contingencies. The cosmos, organic life and human societies are all subject to a law of evolution which is essentially impersonal, gradual and devoid of transcendent purposes (reasons that are beyond the intrinsic nature of entities, which determines their immediate goals/future states). According to this view, the apparent harmony of the cosmos, moral principles, conscious experiences and other mysteries, are all products of gradual, impersonal mechanisms rather than divine intervention. 

It is quite hard to imagine a solid refutation of this metaphysics, other than through a slew of typical theological argumentations in defense of God, extending from ontological and cosmological arguments of various kinds, teleological arguments, presuppositionalist arguments and so on. The logical import of these have been questioned by many and theologians are often accused of couching their apologetics in seemingly reasonable philosophical parlance while being ultimately speculative. 

Speculations are precisely what I like to focus on, and it is very useful to taxonomize the speculative underpinnings of different scientific theories and hypotheses, to make proper sense of their philosophical foundations. I want to touch upon just two profound mysteries within the sciences, and examine how speculations within these two bears on our God-conceptions.   


Consciousness is indeed an intriguing and troubling problem for scientists at this point, which has led to the famous hard problem of consciousness (coined by David Chalmers). To put it simply, the physicalist paradigm of science (which is the dominant metaphysics) assumes that consciousness is emergent from or identical to neuronal processes in the brain. But there is no way, even in principle, to explain why or how is it that phenomenal subjective states accompany purely mechanistic physical processes (Chalmers, 1995). To avoid certain dualistic undertones in formulation of the problem, it is better to state that one cannot derive qualitative states of subjective experience via a purely quantitative vocabulary (Goff, 2020). 

However, consciousness should not be understood as an objection to materialism/physicalism. It is better to understand it as a problem entailed by the nebulousness of the metaphysical schema of physicalism itself (Chomsky, 2013). There is no consensus on what the physical is and for all we know, all matter could potentially have ghostly properties, as Chomsky puts it, following Bertrand Russel. So, consciousness is the problem that materialism invariably runs into, as long as matter is fundamentally understood as particles with quantifiable properties (or conventionally understood as spatially localized entities possessing properties like mass, charge, acceleration, momentum, etc.) 

The only viable alternative metaphysical schemas are dualism and idealism, both of which ascribes a certain fundamentality to consciousness or qualia itself. We can see triadic systems emerging within the metaphysics of mind and the various theories posited tend to fall within the broad classification of physicalism, dualism and idealism, with enough space to accommodate a spectrum of different variations within this triadic taxonomy. There are also nominal differences in theoretical formulations, like in eliminativism, illusionism, emergentism, constitutive panpsychism, cosmopsychism, subjective and objective idealism and so on. But we can still, in principle, inscribe this multiplicity within the three frameworks of substance-metaphysics mentioned above. For example, some materialist strands of emergentism argue that life and subjectivity slowly emerged out of dead matter, which tacitly assumes a discontinuity in kind between dead matter and living, conscious matter. However, this goes against core scientific intuitions such as Leibniz’s idea that nature does not make sudden leaps or the Darwinian view that discontinuities are absent in nature (Koch, 2021). This impasse is remedied by panpsychist emergentism, for example, which takes consciousness as a fundamental property of all matter, sometimes committing itself to a sort of methodological dualism (implying that you can investigate the mental and physical properties separately).  

 If physicalism is no longer a viable option, we’ll have to consider the possibility of consciousness being an ontological primitive, which naturally opens us up to questions like: “Is there a universal consciousness?”, “Are we the instantiations of a conscious, intelligent mind?” “Was the universe intelligently/consciously designed in the mind of God?” and so on. A pragmatist would dismiss such questions as pseudo-problems (Quine, 1951) with no possible empirical means to investigate, but then, the desultory, pragmatist hand-waving need not foreclose our desire to know and the freedom to believe. After all, I am not claiming that God is an entity amenable to empirical investigation and verification, nor am I attempting at an encompassing definition of God. I’m only stating the fact that the mysterious gap opened up by the hard problem of consciousness does indeed bear on our God-conceptions at this point.


Time is another mystery within science that has considerable import on theological discussions around God, albeit not apparent at first. One main concern from theological camps is regarding the finitude of the past, or whether universe began to exist at some point in the past. Some theories point to the genesis of our universe that must have had a cause transcendent to itself (interestingly, the Big Bang theory was originally proposed by a Jesuit priest). This transcendent cause is typically portrayed as God, the necessary being (that which exists and could not have been otherwise) that grounds the existence of all other contingent beings (that which exists, but could easily have not existed). The Big-Bang model is now challenged by alternative cosmological models, like Penrose’s conformal cyclic cosmology (CCC), which posits the existence of other universes prior to the Big-Bang.  

Closely tied to this debate is the question of the ontological status of time itself. Kurt Gödel, one of the greatest logicians of 20th century, was known for being obsessed with the implication of Einstein’s relativity theory on the notion of time. He came to the conclusion that the intuitive notion of time is simply not real (this was a result of him discovering that Einsteinian equations permitted a universe in which spatial paths looped backward in time, which he considered ridiculous).  He came to believe that “time, like God, is either necessary or nothing; if it disappears in one possible universe, it is undermined in every possible universe, including our own” (Holt, 2005). 

Gödel’s anti-realism about time was in consonance with many philosophers, from Parmenedes to Kant, who believed that the flow of time (from past to future) was just an illusion.  Whether time is in fact illusory (or merely an experiential phenomenon) or if it has some mind-independent reality of its own is still an open question, albeit confusing to our common-sense notions about time. 

This debate about time is still quite active in the scientific community today. Some physicists have argued for an anti-realist view of time (Carlo Rovelli, for example) while others are realists about time. There are those who consider time to be more fundamental than space (like Tim Maudlin), and then there are those who consider space-time itself to be some sort of simulation (Donald Hoffman).  All this mystery surrounding time is bound to bear on our God-beliefs and even potentially lend credence to popular philosophical conceptions of God as the necessary being (existing outside space-time), the first-cause, the unmoved mover, the ultimate observer and the designer of space-time itself.

In any case, it will suffice to pay attention to the metaphysical and speculative underpinnings of scientific theories, to realize that the rather simplistic atheist intuitions need to be refined and thoroughly examined. Natural sciences have only the limited conception of nature (as that which can be observed and studied) to boot-strap itself to vindicate its commitments, but human intelligence and creativity has always been drawn to explore further and beyond the world of appearances. God keeps waiting for us at the crevices and edges of natural investigations. 

Nikhil Seethi

Nikhil Seethi is an independent philosophy-researcher, currently based in Bangalore, India.

2 thoughts on “On Science, Mysteries, And God-Belief – OpEd

  • March 24, 2024 at 5:26 am

    Sorry, but the Crusades were not a putrefaction but rather an understandable reaction to the invasion of the murderous Islamic hordes in the Iberian Peninsula, France, Sardinia, the coasts of Italy and Anatolia. Instead of making up gibberish, study actual history. Had the Crusades prevailed in taking back the Holy Land for Western civilization, the world today would be a much better place.

    • March 24, 2024 at 6:21 am

      “Understandable reaction”? Sorry, I don’t digest history with the naivety of a 12-year-old engrossed in comic books. This is precisely the kind of putrefied apologetics I warn against here.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *